San Jose Mercury News

Wednesday, June 10, 1998

Schools Chief Weighs Waiver to English-Only Classes

With year-round classes to begin next month, educators in Gilroy say they must await word from state education chief Delaine Eastin before deciding what to do with bilingual programs in the wake of voter passage of the pro-English initiative, Proposition 227.

During the proposition campaign, school trustees voted 4-3 to oppose the initiative. Superintendent David Alvarez said after the election that he might apply for a waiver of its provisions for his district, where 25 percent of students are in bilingual classes but success rates for moving to all-English classes are below state averages.

However, Proposition 227 won handily in Gilroy, taking 55 percent of the vote and winning in 64 percent of the area's 22 precincts.

Trustee Jane Howard, who supported Proposition 227, said Tuesday that given Gilroy voters' support for the initiative, Alvarez may have a hard time seeking waivers. ``If he applies for a waiver, he's going to need to get board approval,'' she said.

In any case, she said, the district recently completed a thorough curriculum audit that could bring changes to bilingual programs even if Proposition 227 is held up by court challenges or is struck down by the courts. Audit results are due back in September, she said.

Meanwhile, with an August deadline looming for implementation of Proposition 227, and a court challenge already mounted, both Gilroy and state officials are scrambling to figure out how to proceed.

Eastin is scheduled to send out regulations within the next few weeks that could serve as guidelines for the district, said David Pribyl, coordinator of state and federal projects for the Gilroy Unified School District.

In Sacramento, however, all that seems certain is that Eastin's office will have something for the state's school districts to work with by month's end, a spokesman said Tuesday.

``The state Board of Education meets this week and we'll take it from there; we don't know what the board is going to do,'' said Doug Stone, communications director for the state Department of Education.

For year-round schools, which begin next month before the implementation deadline for Proposition 227, Stone said it's unclear if districts should start to comply immediately or keep existing programs.

At Gilroy's two year-round schools, Rod Kelley and Las Animas elementary schools, the number of students changing from non-English to English classes is below the state average.

So-called ``redesignation'' rates in 12 of the district's schools, including the high school and one of two junior highs, are below the state average of 6.5 percent. Those are the rates at which students are moved from bilingual programs into English-only classes.

Rates at Gilroy schools range from zero at four schools to a high of 17.5 percent at Luigi Aprea School.

Still, there has been improvement, according to Pribyl, who believes that the rates are only one measure of program effectiveness and others are needed.

This year's redesignation rate of 4.7 percent is an improvement over last year's rate of 3.3 percent, and it's more than double 1996's rate of 2.1 percent, he said.